Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I disagree with published comments you’ve made about the state agencies that license and regulate building contractors. In one article, you told someone “…don’t be too surprised at agency officials’ seeming lack of interest.” As one of the agents of whom you speak, I can assure you that the people in my office take every consumer complaint very seriously. While we receive thousands of complaints every year, every one is handled with concern, and every effort is made to ensure that construction is performed in a safe, competent, and professional manner. I encourage you, therefore, not to imply that we regulators are disinterested. Richard

Dear Richard: Many of the consumer complaints filed against building contractors are indeed handled with fairness and concern by licensing agencies such as yours. But there are also cases where fairness and justice are denied to damaged consumers, where unqualified or unethical contractors slip through the cracks of the system. The following examples illustrate this unfortunate reality:

Several years ago, I was hired to inspect a newly-built patio enclosure. The contractor who did the work had failed to use tempered safety glass. The framing members for the roof were undersized for the span, causing the structure to sag. The framing was not secured with adequate hardware, and the visible quality of workmanship was appalling. I advised the homeowners to file a complaint with the state contractors licensing agency. They did so. After reviewing the matter, the agency approved the contractor’s work and dismissed the complaint.

In another incident, two retired sisters hired a general contractor to construct a building on their property. The general hired a subcontractor to grade the building site, at a cost of $6000. The sisters, however, were approached by another grading contractor who offered to prepare the site for $5,500. But there was a catch: He proposed a time and material contract, rather than securing the quoted price in writing. When the grading was completed, his bill exceeded $17,000. The ladies protested, but he threatened to take legal action if they did not pay. Under duress, they met his demand but later regretted that decision and filed a complaint with the contractors regulatory agency.

During the investigation, the grading contractor claimed that the location of the construction site had been changed after the work was begun and that this accounted for the additional cost for his work. According to the general contractor and the building plans, that claim was entirely untrue. Yet the state contractors agency ruled against the two property owners. They overpaid $12,000 for the work and were denied justice by the agency empowered to prevent this kind of abuse.

Both of these cases deserved better consideration. In view of their outcomes, “don’t be too surprised at agency officials’ seeming lack of interest.”